Songs From the House of Death is a new song cycle for mezzo-soprano and orchestra by Ian Cusson. It was premiered in April by Krisztina Szabó and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. It’s a setting of three texts from Joy Harjo‘s How We Became Human. Ian has a knack of finding really strong texts by Indigenous poets and these are no exception. The longest (13 minutes of the 23 minute work) is “Songs From the House of Death; Or How to Make it Through the End of a Relationship”. This is an evocation of death and impermanence and memory. The setting is very varied. The opening pizzicato strings are barely audible but it rapidly builds to blend densely orchestrated (it’s a big orchestra) and very high energy music with much gentler and more lyrical passages; sometimes using the concert master as a soloist. This fits the changing moods of the text and, as I’ve come to expect with Ian, the music is always rooted in the text.
A Northern Lights Dream is a new operetta by Michael Rose which premiered this last week at Toronto Operetta Theatre in a production directed by Guillermo Silva-Marin. A new operetta is a very rare thing. It;’s just not a form that contemporary composers seem to take to. There’s far too much spoken dialogue for an opera but the musical language; mostly tonal, often quite beautiful but not afraid to get more abrasive when appropriate, is much closer to that of contemporary opera than musical theatre. So an operetta it is.
The third instalment of the Likht Ensemble’s Shoah Songbook project features music from Poland; specifically from the Lodz ghetto and Auschwitz-Birkenau. It’s available now on the Harold Green Jewish Theatre channel on Youtube. Here’s the link. There’s about 12 minutes of useful introductory material and 25 minutes of music.
Not so long ago I reviewed a production of Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel and described it as “so bonkers that I hardly know how to describe it.”. So what to say about one that I found even less satisfying? First, for plot details check out the earlier review. Now for this version directed by Andrea Breth and filmed at the Theater an der Wien in 2021 without an audience but with no other obvious concessions to COVID.
Almost six years to the day since his last appearance Bryn, now Sir Bryn, Terfel made it back to Koerner hall for a much anticipated recital; this time accompanied by Annabel Thwaite. The first set, partly setting up a Shakespeare theme for the evening, consisted of four songs by Schubert including “Trinklied” and “An Silvia”. It was followed by three of the the Quilter Shakespeare settings; “Come Away, Come Away, Death”, “O Mistress Mine” and “Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind”. The first half concluded with the Vier ernste Gesänge of Brahms. I think it’s fair to say that what we were hearing was not the Bryn that his considerable following in the hall expected. The artistry of interpretation was still there but something was up with the voice. It didn’t have the bloom I remembered and in places, especially with high notes, it just wasn’t happening. Was he a bit under the weather or was it the toll of the years and lots of Wagner? I don’t know but I really hope it was the former.
Last night the Happenstancers presented another intriguing concert of chamber music titled Chimaera. This time it was in the excellent hall at 918 Bathurst. It was a clever conceit. There were three “sets” with each consisting of two contrasting works that were combined in different ways.
The pieces in the first set were played straightforwardly consecutively but consisted of the least familiar music; Julia Wolfe’s Reeling and the premiere of Nahre Sol’s Chunhyang. Wolfe is one of those young American composers who combine a conservatory training with a taste for minimalism and hard driving rock and, in the case of this piece, folk music. It’s scored for nine instrumentalists including electric guitar and drum kit plus lots of electronics. It’s really cool and reminds me of the most drunk ceilidhs I’ve ever been to. And that may be why I remember almost nothing about the second piece except that the composer (keyboards) was playing it.
Soundstreams is the latest local organisation to make the return to live performance with an audience with a concert Thursday night at St. Andrew’s Church titled A Love Song to Toronto. Three of the works on the program; Vivier’s Hymnen an dir Nacht and Lovesongs plus Christopher Mayo’s Oceana Nox, appeared in a streamed concert in November and I described them in some detail in reviewing that show. The performers were the same as well bar one. Pianist Serouj Kradjian replaced Gregory Oh . I don’t think my impressions of the pieces have changed much but I really appreciated the greater immediacy of a genuinely live performance.
So no big launch event to herald the COC’s 2022/23 season announcement, just an email. I’m not surprised because if the season had been announced in front of a large crowd at the Four Seasons Centre there would probably have been a riot. There are six productions on the main stage and each gets only seven or eight performances for a total of 45 which is the lowest since the house opened. Five of them are revivals and there’s no Parsifal. I begin to think that I have more chance of finding the Holy Grail than ever seeing Parsifal in Toronto.
Toronto Summer Music is back for real with the festival running from July 7th to 30th. There are 26 main stage concerts plus the ReGENERATION and shuffle concerts and the community programmes. The main stage line up has now been announced and here’s my curated pick: